Meningitis epidemic afflicts Rwanda and Burundi
25 October 2002
MSF is conducting and facilitating mass vaccination campaigns in Rwanda and Burundi in order to curb a severe meningitis epidemic. The Rwandan health authorities declared the epidemic in mid-July. Three months, later the situation is still worrisome, with even the inhabitants of Kigali now being vaccinated. During the past three months the alert threshold has been exceeded in several communities and provinces in Burundi as well. "By mid-October Rwanda has counted more than 1,100 meningitis cases." said Luc Nicolas, operational coordinator of MSF in Belgium. "125 people died because of the disease - which means a mortality rate of more than 10%. Especially the southern and eastern provinces of the country are heavily affected." Meningitis is endemic to Rwanda and - especially during dry season - there are outbreaks. The epidemic is extremely severe this time since it has spread rapidly into neighbouring provinces and countries, such as Burundi. In this outbreak, patients only presented themselves for treatment in a late stage, which caused a very high mortality rate. To curb the epidemic the health authorities are carrying out mass vaccination campaigns in many provinces. "We have donated a total 450,000 doses of vaccines to the Ministry of Health," Nicolas added. "The first part of the donation is being used in Butare Province, where the first meningitis cases were detected. The health authorities have vaccinated the entire population aged over 6 months in this province - some 800,000 people. And we provided support for the vaccination of 200,000 people in the district of Gahini, Umutara Province. "Access to health care is very problematic in countries like this, which makes it more difficult for the population to receive treatment . Therefore we sent a medical doctor in Gahini hospital who is in charge of the treatment of meningitis patients." Meningitis is also spreading in Burundi. It already affected more than half of the country. All the northern and central provinces have been affected. The management of the epidemic is further complicated by a lack of access to health care for the population and insecurity in many parts of the country. "By the end of September, 934 infected patients were counted of which 69 people died," explained Nicolas. "The health authorities decided to vaccinate the whole of north-eastern Burundi. They carried out most of the vaccinations while our teams vaccinated three communities in Karuzi Province."